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Dealing with Dogs

Definition & Our Experiences

Every cyclist knows, dogs hate bikes… but is that really true?

Judging from the amount of times the past years that we've been barked at and chased, we would definitely agree, at least at first. But we’ve also met so many sweet dogs along our way, that our answer would have to be: It always depends on the dog, the situation and the environment.

First of all, it's important to differentiate and define what “types of dogs” there are - for the sake of this article, we will categorize them as follows: Street dogs, guard/house dogs (pets) & shepherd/livestock guardian dogs.

  • Street dogs:

    • Ownerless, free-ranging dogs

    • In many countries we’ve seen lots of street dogs, sometimes also running around in big groups

    • In Turkey we encountered the biggest number of street dogs

    • In our experience, street dogs are usually quite relaxed and don’t really care about us

    • Occasionally we get barked at by street dogs, mostly if they don’t see/hear us coming (e.g. when they are fast asleep) and are then startled by us

  • Guard/House dogs (pets):

    • Kept by people in and around their property for protection, or as pets

    • It is not always directly obvious if a dog on the street is a real street dog or a guard/house dog, as in our experience not all guard/house dogs are fenced in and/or wearing a collar

    • This makes guard/house dogs very dangerous, as you never really know if they feel the need to protect their property/territory/owners, or not

    • So far, this category of dogs is the one that has also caused us the most problems

    • The countries, so far, where we’ve encountered the most aggressive, free ranging guard/house dogs were Greece & Peru

  • Shepherd/Livestock guardian dogs:

    • As the name suggests, these are the dogs that are protecting livestock, e.g. sheep

    • We saw many guardian dogs in Greece and Turkey (e.g. Kangals), where they are bred and trained to protect the sheep from predators like wolves

    • Don’t mess with these dogs, if they are actually guarding livestock when you encounter them

    • If you come too close to the livestock, the dog might see you as a threat

    • On the few occasions where we came across a herd of sheep with their guarding dog(s), and there was no shepherd around, we slowly backed away until the dog would stop barking, and rather took another way

What are the Dangers?

  • The first fear that comes to mind when talking about encounters with aggressive dogs while cycling, is getting bitten

    • Luckily, this has never happened to us (yet)

    • A bite itself can cause serious issues, especially when it’s a deep bite

    • But our biggest concern is getting rabies

    • What we would do if we would get bitten, you can read further down

    • We have also heard from cyclists who themselves didn’t get bitten, but their bike/panniers got caught between the dog’s teeth

  • What, in our experience, is actually more likely to happen though, is that you have an accident, caused by the dog’s sudden appearance

    • Often, dogs will completely surprise and thereby startle you

    • Normally, your first instinctive reaction will be to steer your bike out of the way, without looking where you are actually going, especially if the dog is already very close to you or your legs

    • In Turkey, this happened to Louisa: 

      • A dog shot out of a driveway, barking

      • She steered to the left without looking and ended up in a ditch, hurting her knee by falling on asphalt

      • Luckily, we were going rather slow - if this would’ve happened at a higher speed, it could’ve ended much worse

      • There is also the risk of riding into oncoming traffic, for example

    • So, although easier said than done, you should, at all costs, avoid suddenly swerving to the side, especially when there is traffic around - you don’t want to end up under the wheels of a truck because of a dog!

Dealing with Aggressive Dogs

Louisa splashing water at dogs in Mexico

Louisa splashing water at dogs in Mexico

Louisa waiting for sheep and their guardian dog to pass.

Waiting for sheep and their guardian dog in Peru

What’s important to understand about dogs that seem aggressive, is that they are behaving this way because of one or several different reasons. We are no dog experts, but from our experience they are either scared by you and bark/attack out of fear, want to protect ‘their’ property/territory/owners, or they see you as some kind of prey and want to chase you.

So how to behave around dogs when cycling? This is what we have learned in general:

  • If you see a dog, slow down, possibly even stop, and never ever speed past it or try to outrun it (most encounters with aggressive dogs will already be diffused if you briefly stop cycling)

  • Don’t further provoke the dog or respond with (excessive) aggression

  • If you can, keep your distance and don’t startle the dog

  • Try to stay calm in any kind of situation (we know, easier said than done)

Dogs tend to show different behavior, to which you should best react accordingly: 

Barking Dogs:

  • A dog that’s already barking at you from a distance, but is not actually approaching, might just want to warn you to stay away

  • So if you don’t come too close, you might be fine

  • Don’t go too fast, maybe even consider getting off your bike

  • As a precaution, always keep your bike between you and the dog if you get off

Barking & charging dogs:

  • From our experience, dogs that behave this way often protect something, e.g. their house & surroundings, and we have invaded their space

  • By barking, they are still giving out a warning before actually attacking

  • Try to stay calm, get off your bike & keep it between you and the dog

  • Slowly back away

Charging dogs that don’t bark:

  • These are much more dangerous than the barking ones

  • If a dog comes at you without barking (so without warning you), it’s likely that it wants to bite you right away

  • Fortunately, we rarely encounter dogs that directly charge us without barking

  • If you still have the chance, get off your bike and keep it between you and the dog

  • Try to stay calm and slowly back away from the dog, don’t let it out of your sight

  • If you are not going downhill, your chances of outrunning a dog are quite small

  • Another danger: As you might not notice the charging dog until very late, it may startle you, which (as mentioned above) can result in you having an accident

Dogs chasing after you:

  • You have triggered the dog’s instinct of chasing prey

  • This is the situation that has happened to us the most on our trip

  • You want to interrupt the chase, and show the dog you’re not prey, so you should slow down & stop

    • While stopping, loudly & firmly shout something like ‘Hey!’

    • Often, this is already enough for the dog(s) to leave you alone

What we generally do if dogs won’t leave us alone:

  • If the dog is persistent or we need to take quick action, we splash water at it (we have bottle pouches attached to our handlebars, so we can reach our water bottles quickly)

  • Another possibility if the dog is really close already and we need to act fast: Kick the dog

    • This sounds brutal and is of course not our first choice

    • But if the dog is already at the leg and about to bite, kicking it or towards it can be the only chance to not get bitten

    • Be aware that, if the dog reacts really quickly, it might still catch your leg between its teeth 

  • In Peru, where we had many aggressive and persistent dogs, we often imitated the movement of throwing stones

    • The dogs were (unfortunately) very used to actually having stones thrown at them, also by their owners

    • So if we didn’t know what else to do, we pretended picking up a stone or made a throwing movement

    • Many dogs would flinch and immediately leave us alone when we did this

  • Unfortunately, sometimes we ended up actually throwing stones in their direction

    • Peru was the only country where we were forced to do this

    • It was always the last resort, but sometimes the only solution we saw

    • We didn’t aim for the dogs directly

    • While we never would have thought that we would throw stones at dogs, we didn’t see another way in some situations

    • If the choice is between throwing a stone or getting bitten, it’s always the former

  • Generally, every situation is different and sometimes showing aggression like these examples can worsen the dog’s behavior towards you, so always try to assess the situation and then act accordingly

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What if I get bitten?

  • The most important thing is to get to a doctor as fast as possible (after cleaning the wound as best as possible)

  • Apart from the harm that the bite itself can cause (especially when it’s a deep bite), the biggest risk is getting rabies

    • Rabies is a deadly viral disease (caused by the Rabies lyssavirus) which can spread to people from the saliva of infected animals

    • Even if the dog (or other animal) that bit you didn’t show any symptoms, it might have still transmitted the virus to you - you have to get to a doctor within 24 hours!

    • If you are already vaccinated against rabies (which you definitely should be), you still need to receive some extra vaccination shots, the first one within the first 24 hours after the bite

    • If you are not vaccinated, you have to get even more vaccination shots, the first one also within 24 hours after the bite

    • Once rabies symptoms show, there’s no cure and it’s 100% fatal

    • According to the WHO, in up to 99% of cases, domestic dogs are responsible for rabies virus transmission to humans (learn more here)

  • Another disease that can be transmitted through a bite is tetanus, which you should also be vaccinated against beforehand - still, you might need a renewal of your tetanus vaccination

  • Go to a doctor before your travels to get all the vaccinations you need throughout the journey and learn how to act accordingly in the case of an animal bite

  • Apart from the worries about diseases, bear in mind:

    • If the dog has an owner, they should be liable for the dog

    • If you have the time (e.g. because the dog bit your bike instead of your leg), you can try to find the owner right away and tell them what happened

    • The owner’s reaction and your rights in the matter will depend on the country you’re in

    • In case you had a camera running throughout the incident, keep the footage as evidence

Encounters with Dogs Don’t Have to be Negative

Even though it often feels like it, not every encounter with a dog on a bicycle journey has to be negative. In fact, one of our best memories of our whole journey so far is when we spent a whole week cycling together with a dog in southern Patagonia in April 2023.

 

The dog “adopted” us after we cycled past her, and she went on to walk 170 km with us over the course of seven days. We cooked her rice in the evenings and helped her find water, and when the time finally came for us to leave the area, we tried to leave her with some people close to where we found her (we were cycling a loop). Unfortunately, we never found out where she came from, or if she belonged to someone.

In Patagonia Louisa & Tobi were traveling with a dog

In Patagonia we were traveling with this cute dog for a week

In Patagonia, Louisa & Tobi were accompanied by a dog for a week.

During this week, she wouldn't leave our side

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